I Hope They Are Not Cheating, Says the Woman who Seized a Phone During a Benchmark Test Today

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(In these times when leaving the phone alone may benefit everyone except the student who is learning to cheat.)

I did my student teaching in mathematics at Waukegan High School in 2005. When I left that spring, administrators were planning to evaluate student test results to decide which teachers should teach which classes. On the surface, this sounds like a rational approach. My cooperating teacher was worried, though. She taught one Honors Algebra class, but all her other classes were lowest level classes. These Algebra 1 Part 1 and Plane Geometry classes included students who somehow reached high school operating at an elementary school mathematical level. Some of these students remained hazy on what to do with equations that had parentheses, for example. They were going to bomb those tests. Nothing else was possible.

Her counterparts who taught calculus or higher-level algebra classes entered the testing arena with a huge natural advantage. Their students had aptitude for mathematics, better study habits, supportive parents, some combination of these, or whatever might be required to perform better mathematically on state tests. They had proven this through previous performance throughout their academic careers.

My cooperating teacher was about to be forced to play a game she could not win. In addition, she was being set up to compete against colleagues. The members of that math department were professionals, not the sort to refuse to share materials or advice with a coworker, but an obvious incentive exists under this system to avoid helping the teacher next door. If you raise Sam’s students’ test scores, Sam may be assigned the class you want to teach.

Eduhonesty: What is this craziness? Common sense may have fled these lands, but surely a scintilla of logical thought remains. I can’t find that teacher’s name among the faculty there now. I don’t know the end of this story. Similar stories often end in teachers leaving their schools or even the profession itself.

Craziness exists all the way up the administrative ladder today.  A few years ago, my then-Principal told me “we need teachers who can get these kids (bilingual students) to pass the ISATs.” My observation is this: Middle-school and high-school students are in bilingual programs because they cannot pass their English-language learning test, the ACCESS test. Some students who are nearly able to pass the ACCESS test may succeed in passing the ISATs. But students with low ACCESS scores are operating at an early or mid-elementary level in academic English. Some are as much as six years or more behind their grade-level peers. These students are not going to pass any Common Core-based annual state test without cheating. They would have almost as much chance of passing a standardized test written in Klingon. Unless they cheated, I’d guess the odds would be the same, in fact.

Discussing this incident with an Assistant Principal in another district the following year, that Assistant Principal said, “Why should those test scores matter?” Then after a pause, he answered his own question.  “He was being judged on those test scores.” I simply nodded agreement.

In practical terms, my former cooperating teacher in Waukegan was being pushed up against a wall. Her best move might have been to cheat. My best move might have been to cheat. My past-Principal’s best move might have been to cheat. Under the current system, threatened federal sanctions create high stakes for ordinary people who are doing their best, sometimes in impossible circumstances. Fortunately for America, most people who enter education are not the sort to cheat on tests.

I hope they are not, anyway.